Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Tuesday acknowledged that Afghanistan is still battling a lethal rebel opposition but applauded the country's parliamentary elections as a historic step.
"The country that hosted Osama bin Laden (search), that supported training camps for al-Qaida, endured decades of civil war, Soviet occupation, drought, Taliban brutality, is now a democracy that fights terrorists instead of harboring them," Rumsfeld said.
In Kabul on Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) challenged the need for major foreign military operations in his country, saying that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks. He also demanded a stop to foreign troops searching people's homes without government authorization.
"I don't think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," Karzai told reporters in Kabul (search). "The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now."
At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld was asked about the Afghan president's remarks but he did not directly comment on the future U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
"Are there still people being killed? Sure. Is there lethality? Yes. Do we coordinate with the Afghan security forces and with the Afghan government in terms of the counterterrorism activities? You bet," Rumsfeld said.
"Obviously airstrikes, when you don't have a massed army on the ground or large puddles of enemies, then airstrikes are less effective than when you do," he added.
Rumsfeld noted that in the fall of 2001, in the early weeks of the U.S. war to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, some U.S. newspapers raised the specter of a military quagmire.
"Thankfully, millions of Afghans were determined to prove them wrong," he said, referring to Sunday's parliamentary elections.
Washington and other governments have poured in billions of dollars to foster a civic system in Afghanistan after a quarter-century of conflict and to ensure the country does not return to being a staging post for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
But a wave of insurgent attacks has killed more than 1,200 people in the six months leading up to the ballot, underlining the threat that remains.